How Fossil Fuels Make Inequality Worse

There’s a whole line of thinking, popular with the fossil fuel industry and its allies in politics and business, that though climate change is real, the costs of addressing it are too high, especially for the world’s poor. In June, Bill Gates, billionaire philanthropist, took to his blog to promote that argument, saying the poor “can’t afford today’s expensive clean energy solutions, and we can’t expect them [to] wait for the technology to get cheaper.”
Fossil fuels aren’t actually the secret to bringing energy to the world’s poor, though. Responding to Gates’ post, Jigar Shah, the founder of SunEdison, pointed to actual energy economics in the developing world. Entrepreneurs are turning to distributed sources of clean energy to spread electricity in poor countries, he wrote, “overwhelmingly out of the desire to power the poor — not to solve climate change.” Extending the grid to connect more people to fossil fuel power has progressed slowly. Meanwhile, home solar is providing cheap, renewable, off-grid power to a growing number of the rural poor in India and across the world. And a policy like a carbon tax would actually give money to poor people to make sure they don’t have to pay the price for the switch to renewable energy.
Still, as the climate impacts, pollution, and environmental devastation that stem from fossil fuel consumption became undeniable, proponents of oil, gas, and coal have sought a human face to justify their continued use. The plight of the poor provided a good opportunity.

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